As Russian bombs continue to drop in Ukraine and over a million refugees cross the borders, faith leaders from around the world gathered in person and virtually at the Church Center for the United Nations to pray and to demand peace.
Co-sponsored by the Parliament of the World’s Religions and the Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations, conveners brought leaders together from multiple faiths to demonstrate what they describe as “faith-full-solidarity for the people of Ukraine and citizens of Russia who are all victims of this senseless act of war.”
The prayer service took place one day after the United Nations voted in an emergency session on the “Aggression Against Ukraine” resolution, demanding a halt to Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the withdrawal of all Russian troops. The resolution passed 141-5, with 35 abstentions. Immediately after the vote, the chamber erupted in thunderous applause.
In addition, news broke this week from Ukraine that Russian forces overpowered the port city of Kherson. Kherson, a city with a population of nearly 300,000, is central to controlling access to the Black Sea, allowing Russia’s naval dominance in the entire region.
Faith leaders passionately spoke about the need for Russia to step away from the aggression and let peace abound. They stood in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, praying for an end to their suffering and for their resolve to stand against tyranny.
Oksana Galkevic, deputy director for JDC-FSU (a global Jewish humanitarian organization), called the developing situation in Ukraine a “humanitarian crisis” for which the world must react.
Phyllis Curott, a trustee within the Parliament, stated, “We must stand strong and speak from our heart.” She went on to speak about the incredible resolve of the Ukrainian people, saying, “There is beauty and unity in their character.”
Admiration for the Ukrainian response to Russian aggression has been remarkably consistent around the world.
Igor Bandura, vice president of the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, logged in to the meeting via Zoom. He told a story of how Christians gathered at St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv on Ash Wednesday to pray for peace.
He added, “Even though the Russians continue to destroy our nation, we keep praying for peace and fighting for our freedom. Our people are willing to fight to the death for our freedom.”
His words hung heavy in the chapel, as participants weighed the reality of the situation. With Ukrainian civilians being killed each day, tears could be seen in the eyes of the participants.
Stephen Avino, executive director of the Parliament, strongly condemned Russia’s action. “The invasion of Ukraine is a violation of human rights, freedom and peace,” he said. “We pray for an immediate cessation of Russia’s actions and call them to withdraw all of their soldiers from Ukraine.”
Baptist World Alliance General Secretary and CEO Elijah Brown appealed directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin: “President Putin, please cease these aggressive actions and give peace a chance.”
Mark Rashkov, administrator at The Patriarchal Parish of the Russian Orthodox Church, lamented: “The church does not believe in war. We call for peace. The spreading of hate between nations must stop. We must raise resources to support all victims.” His parish is currently raising money for their “brothers and sisters” in Ukraine.
The Russian Orthodox cleric’s words echo those of his colleagues from around the world. Just this week, more than 150 Russian Orthodox priests signed a document demanding an immediate stop to the war. This is highly unusual, as many who signed the letter have actually supported Putin in the past.
Michael Balinsky, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, offered this insight: “For the Jewish people and for people of the world there should be peace.” He then showed a recent video of Jewish worshippers inside a synagogue in Odessa who were dancing and singing about peace.
As the world demonstrates its solidarity in support of Ukraine, a Muslim Iraqi-American reminded participants that aggressive invasions do not lead to peaceful resolutions. Sahar Alsalami asked, “Has the world not learned anything in the last 20 years?” She then went on to remind listeners of the Quran’s teaching, “The Quran instructs us not to point a gun at anything with a living soul.”
Sikh cleric J. Mehr Kaur sang a beautiful song advocating for peace and love. She concluded with the comment, “Peace is the only way to end the pain.”
Participants were also reminded of the ethical teachings among most faiths to treat each other with respect and dignity. Charline Manuel of Unity World Headquarters said, “In religions throughout history, the mutual constant is standard, treat others as you want to be treated.” How is unprovoked aggression from Russia against their Ukrainian neighbors just? It’s not.
Elijah Brown concluded the service by reminding the crowd what’s at stake. “Last week, a Ukrainian Baptist Church gathered with bombs exploding outside,” he said. “As they listened to the bombs, they sang an old Baptist anthem, ‘Count Your Many Blessings.’”
It is this type of infectious spirit and attitude that is inspiring people of faith to gather in support of Ukraine and her people. Brown added that Baptists in Ukraine helped 45,000 displaced citizens in the last six days. The Ukrainian people are showing the world how to stand up to tyranny and care for their people.
As the leaders of the service emphasized, the time is now for the world to stand beside Ukraine. We must continue to pray for peace, but peace without justice is no peace at all. Russia must answer for its violent aggression towards its brothers and sisters. Russia must be held accountable.
Therefore, I join the global faith community in calling for peace – a peace that sees Russian soldiers leave Ukraine and the sovereignty of that beautiful country restored. I call for a peace that holds the aggressor accountable, making certain that future authoritarians and tyrants understand the consequences of unjust actions.
Let us pray that both peace and justice roll.
CEO of Good Faith Media.